A continuation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on Love.
I hope you are well. I woke up yesterday hearing about the passing of the Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh.
I cried. Tears of grief, and then of gratitude, of joy, of connection.
Thầy, meaning "teacher" in Vietnamese, as we lovingly call him, has been with me in the darkest moments.
I first heard of Thay's teaching in 2013 from my mentor Leng who recommended Thay's perhaps most popular book, "Peace In Every Step". It came to me at a time of mental and emotional turmoil. Not knowing what to do and how to be with my own suffering, I turned to his teaching and practice.
In remembrance of Thay's beautiful legacy, I wish to share and expand on a few teachings that continue to change my life. I hope it’s a fresh angle so that we can continue being on the path of true love, peace, joy, and freedom.
On True Love & Missing Joy.
Relationships make and break us.
As a child, I grew up in a family where I didn’t really taste love, except for a few glimpses. I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew there could be more.
This gap later intensified in my first proper relationship at the relatively late age of 25. I suffered, and I looked up Thay’s teaching on True Love.
Our relationship had a lot of loving-kindness (i.e genuine regard to others' well-being), compassion (i.e feeling and sharing suffering), and a healthy dose of equanimity (i.e not holding on to grudges).
But joy has always been elusive. I felt glad for my partner's good news and progress in life, yet deep down I knew it wasn't full joy. How did I know? Because I have tasted the real deal.
True joy would be uncontainable. True joy would have us ecstatically jump and cry.
That's true for me, and I bet it's for many other people too.
True joy isn't afraid of spreading itself.
True joy touches you like nothing else.
Which brings me to his powerful reflection on truth at the age of 36.
I knew early on that finding truth is not the same as finding happiness. You aspire to see the truth, but once you have seen it, you cannot avoid suffering. Otherwise, you've seen nothing at all. [...]
“Truth cannot be borrowed. It can only be experienced directly. The fruit of exploration, suffering, and the direct encounter between one's own spirit and reality- the reality of the present moment and the reality of ten thousand lifetimes. For each person, it is different. And it is different today than it was yesterday."
WHERE IS JOY?
For those who aren't used to Buddhist teaching, "suffering" would be best understood as "tension", which holds a relatively less negative connotation.
To be human is to have tension. Physically, to stand, to walk, to speak, all require tensions in our muscles. Tension between what? Between different layers of reality, between what we know could be and what is.
Why does it matter for those who are looking to learn and grow? Because tension is the direct physical expression of potential. Look into the tension and you’ll see where the not-yet-realized potential is.
This truth of tension for me is best summed up in a question I've asked since the moment I tasted joy years ago. "How come we all knew that life could be so much more beautiful and joyous, AND YET that's mostly not our usual reality?"
A part of me - and I'm speaking on behalf of many too - knew that life could be SO BEAUTIFUL. I mean, have you ever looked into your lover's eyes and felt the uncontainable ecstasy in the eternity of this moment like in Rumi's rapturous poems?
And YET we mostly don't experience that except for the occasional peak experiences.
To feel that vast gap, that unquenchable longing, that's real pain. (quite masochistic actually). Yet the solution is not to stop caring, hoping the tensions will go away. That would be called "premature enlightenment".
Rather, it is to sense and look into them even more deeply. It is also to hold those tensions skillfully, letting them propel us into the life waiting for us. The life where there are infinitely more joys and pains, for as Thay once said "Our joys and pains are one".
As I meditate on the passing of the human form we call Thich Nhat Hanh, I feel joy springing from within tears. Joyful, joyful tears.
I feel this breath, I feel this body, I see the sky. I grieve and I smile.
Thank you, Thay.
Thank you for pointing me to what joy could feel like.
I will soak in and devour those moments. I will live, and I will love, and I will learn from life about true joy so I could continue to cultivate those seeds in me.
May whatever on the way of us experiencing true joy be dissolved in the most joyous way possible!
Some invitations for you
Daily Meditation with MindKind Fellowship.
If you are looking for an online space to be with yourself in the loving presence of others, especially my dear mentor Dr. Home, join this daily meditation session. It's beautiful. Read more details here.
If you are looking to explore how much more beautiful your experience of life could be, and PLAY WITH FULL JOY in cahoot with lovely & curious people, my wondrous team at Deep Play Institute is putting on such an experience. Read more details here. Deadline is Jan 31st, so hurry up!
I’m doing well. I am at the point where I feel an irresistible pull to depth, death and ending. With that is also an uncontainable unleashing of energy for life. 2022 is going to be a transformative year, marking the end of one big chapter of my life - likely Vietnam.
Externally, I’ll be focusing on building a masterpiece in Vietnam - an Olympic-like gathering called Living More Beautifully, Together.
Meanwhile, I’ll slowly resume my English-speaking life. You’ll see me more in English mode later this year.
I hope you are well too, wherever you are. May joy be with you!
Do write back,
Good to hear your beautiful voice again Khuyen! Looking forward to more!
Thanks for your words, Khuyen. Thay's passing into memory is a jolt for the world of people who seek peace. He was remarkable. I was able to attend a conference he and his students led here in Boston about a decade ago. Just mediating and walking felt charged in his presence. All we can do is keep meditating and walking. ---Lisa